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Social Status Of German Women Reduced By Hitler

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The Law for Reduction of Unemployment issued by Hitler in 1933 was a national and economical policy that aimed at removing women from their jobs to replace them with men. (Pine 17) The aim of this investigation is to find out the extent to which this law reduced the social status of German women until 1939. Because historical sources tend to focus primarily on middle class women, they will be the subject of the investigation. The investigation will cover the position of women prior to the introduction of the law, Hitler’s motives in enforcing the law for Reduction of Unemployment and the effect of the law on the social status of women after its implementation by looking at if it successfully drove women home. An analysis of these sections should indicate the extent to which the policy had an impact on the social status of women in Germany in the years 1933-1939 and how significant it was. In order to carry out this investigation primary sources will be consulted, looking at the laws and official documents, and most importantly, secondary sources, published specifically on the Nazi Women and Policies, after the Nazi Era.

B- Summary of evidence

1. Women in Weimar Germany (1919-1933)

The socially correct position of women defined by Kaiser Wilhelm II as “Kirche Kueche Kinder’ (church, kitchen, children) was transformed by women achieving suffrage in the new Weimer Constitution of 1919, the introduction of birth control and the relaxation of the abortion law that enabled many more women to develop ambitions in the public sphere.(Bielenberg 28). They achieved financial independence through employment where they were encouraged to become teachers, doctors, lawyers and judges.(Brown J) Despite this, women were after the great depression of 1929, resented by men as they were allegedly stealing their jobs. Furthermore, in 1931 Bruning’s government permitted the dismissal of employed married women if they had a reasonable financial situation.(Stephenson 51).

2. Hitler’s motives for the Law for Reduction of Unemployment

Hitler saw the Weimar era as one who lacked the understanding of family life as it had seen higher numbers of married women at work, rising divorce and abortion rates and finally, as a result, a drop in the birth rate, from 36 births per thousand inhabitants in 1901, to 14.7 births per thousand inhabitants in 1933. He called for a return to the women’s traditional role as homemakers and child bearers: “The world of women is a smaller world. For her world is her husband, her family, her children and her house” (Pine 63). Hitler believed that to ensure German supremacy, every woman would need to breed several genetically pure German and educate them to be obedient to him. (Brown P) To confine women to the domestic sphere he needed women out of employment, from which originated the Law for Reduction of Unemployment on 1st June 1933 which was to leave the public sphere reserved for the 6 million unemployed men. (Bielenberg 28)

3. The Law for Reduction of Unemployment The law offered an interest-free loan up to RM 1000 to be repaid at the rate of 1% a month to healthy ‘Aryan’ couples if the wife relinquished her job. (Pine 17). The following week, a supplementary decree stated that the sum to be repaid would be cut by one quarter for each child born, with a moratorium on repayments for a year after the birth, which encouraged reproducing quickly as with four children in quick succession the repayments would be cancelled. (Pine 18). The policy also prevented any woman from becoming civil servants, doctors or lawyers and only 10% of university students could be female. It was moreover backed up by an extensive propaganda campaign designed to glorify motherhood and pull women away from employment. (Bielenberg 46). Mother’s Day was amply celebrated in May where mothers of at least three children under 10 received Honour Cards bearing the inscription, ‘the most beautiful name in all the world is Mother’ (Stephenson 31) and in 1938 three million prolific mothers were awarded the Honour Cross of the German Mother with bronze, silver and gold crosses according to the number of children.(Brown P).

4. Results of the Law for Reduction of Unemployment Between 1933 and 1937 one-third of all marriages contracted within that period were assisted by marriage loans. However, the percentage of women in employment fell from only 37% to 31% from 1933 to 1937 which was way below the desired effect of the law.(Gennari). The policy suffered from contradictions in that women were employed by the Nazi Women’s league itself in 1934 to 1936. (Pine 22). Moreover from 1937 to 1939 they were encouraged into employment because of the increasing shortage of labour that came along the Nazi economy quickly expanding in 1935 and the introduction of conscription and rearmament. (Bielenberg 39). Although the government did not encourage this, by 1939 38% of all employed persons were women. (Stephenson 54). On the other hand, the birth rate had successfully climbed, from 14.7 per 1000 to 20.4. (Brown P)

C- Evaluation of sources

Pine, Lisa. Nazi family policy, 1933-1945. Oxford: New York, 1997

This book, a secondary source written in 1995, was based on research for Lisa Pine’s PhD thesis at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The purpose of the book is to redress the lack of research on the related subject of the family. One of its values is that it is only focused on the family policy from 1933 to 1945 and is detailed as it contains 256 pages. Lisa Pine includes in her writing the interpretation of other historians which is valuable as it gives the reader different perspectives and limits the subjectivity. The use of primary sources, statistical data, photographs and extracts of speeches by people during the Nazi era adds to its authenticity and because the book was written more than 50 years after the events, it has the advantage of hindsight. However, although the policies affecting women are scrutinized and well researched, the source is limited by the fact that the Law for Reduction of Unemployment which was the focus of the research paper is briefly analyzed.

Bielenberg, Christabel. The Past is Myself. Corgi: London, 1988

This novel is an autobiographical account written in 1968 about Christabel’s life in Germany from 1932 until 1945. She was a British woman who married a Germany lawyer in 1934 before becoming a German citizen herself. While she states in the prologue that her purpose was to satisfy the curiosity of her friends and children as to what had happened to her and her family, it seems likely by the tone of the book that she was also trying to educate future generations about Hitler’s dictatorship. As she says in the opening of the book, “I am English, I was German, and above all I was there “which gives her a strong advantage over historians that have assessed and studied the third Reich. The book although it deals mostly with the Second World War, gives a personal account on how women were regarded and treated prior to the war and gives an insight into the manipulative propaganda of the government and its effects on the population which was very valuable. However as it an autobiography, she does not provide a balanced account on the events and because she wrote the book more than twenty years after the events occurred, inaccuracies and indistinctness are plausible as she presumably relied on her memory.

D- Analysis

The first area to assess is whether Hitler successfully brought the women home and raised the birth rate with the introduction of the Law for Reduction of Unemployment in the years 1933-9, in that if it was successful Hitler would have achieved his aim at reversing the women’s emancipation, inevitably reducing women’s social status. On the surface it would appear that the policy was successful as there had been a sharp rise in the birth rate and one-third of marriages contracted were assisted by marriage loans which would have meant that one-third of women gave up their jobs and that number includes women that were unemployed since the beginning. However, there is much evidence showing that it wasn’t the case. By late 1930s loan-aided couples were only having a maximum of two children and even though the birth rate increased it was still way below pre-1914 levels. Pine and Stephenson both argue that the birth rate did not essentially rise because of the incentives given to the women in staying home and childbearing, but more because fertility increased in every country once the 1929 great depression had passed. (Stephenson 32).

Although Marxist historians’ spoke of women being all unfairly sacked from their jobs from 1933 to 1939, Stephenson argues that it is a myth in that both its modern industrial and traditional rural sectors could not function well without significant numbers of women. (Stephenson 50). Even though the percentage of women in employment fell from 37% to 31% from 1933 to 1937- which is a small decrease, the policy for Unemployment was inconsistent in that many women were employed by the Nazi Women’s league itself where the working conditions were ameliorated by welfares supervising the hygiene in the workplace and by providing advice to female workers, (Pine 22). Even more contradictory, as Bielenberg discerns, was the encouragement of female employment in 1937 to 1939, where women were needed to fill jobs vacated by man who had been conscripted. (Bielenberg 39). In 1933 there had been 11.5 million women seeking work or working and in 1939, there were 12.7 employed women. (Stephenson 53)

The next point to analyze is whether there was a reverse in women’s emancipation with the introduction of the law compared to the Weimar era. There has been a strong debate between feminist and anti-feminist historians about this issue. Gisela Bock, a feminist historian has viewed the law for Reduction of Unemployment as a “kind of secondary racism in which women were the victims of a sexist-racist male regime that reduced women to the status of mere objects”. In contrast to such views, Fervert argued that “women’s social status had by no mean deteriorated in comparison with the Weimar era and Haffner even stated that the emancipation of women “made great leaps forward” in the Third Reich. (Pine 3). Bielenberg affirms that there were positive features with the introduction of the policy for unemploymet as women enjoyed the increased status of motherhood and the granting of an interest-free loan made their life easier. (Bielenberg 42). Although embracing a higher social status where they were allowed to vote and occupy higher ranked jobs, large proportion of women in the Weimar Republic continued to embrace the “Kinder, Kueche, Kiche” ideal as they were scorned by men. (Gennari). Bruning’s government permitted the dismissal of employed married women if they enjoyed an adequate financial situation which shows that even before Hitler’s implementation of the policy, there was resentment against employed women. (Stephenson 51). Finally, the propaganda that accompanied the 1933 policy for unemployment, with the giving of awards to prolific mothers and the celebration of mothers’ day is argued by historians to have raised the status of women tremendously. (Pine 19)

E- Conclusion

Hitler felt that women, during the Weimar republic had dismissed their ‘duty’ towards the community through family and childbirth and as a result, implemented the Law for Reduction of Unemployment in 1933 which was aimed at lowering their social status by excluding them from the public sphere and confining them to the domestic sphere. However, the antifeminist policy had a reverse effect in that it tended to promote and even protect women as mothers and housewives which raised their status. Moreover, the policy itself was impractical as the women’s main-d’oeuvre was still needed; especially in 1937 to 1939 where there was a shortage of labour. Where the policy is believed by many to have reduced the women’s status in society in the years 1933-9 in comparison to the years 1919-33, the Third Reich did little to reverse women’s emancipation and change their social status in that the policy aimed at doing so was unsuccessful as in 1939 there were more employed women than in 1933.

F- Reference list

Bielenberg, Christabel. The Past is Myself. Corgi: London, 1988

Brown, Jennifer. Women and Weimar Germany 1920’s. Apr 26. 2009. 11 Jan. 2011 

Brown, Paul. Germany 1918-1939: Impact of Nazism on family life. 11 Jan. 2011

Gennari, Regina.Motherhood in Nazi Germany. 08 Dec. 2003. 04 Jan. 2011

Nazi Germany. 20 Oct. 2000. 5 Dec. 2010

Pine, Lisa. Nazi family policy, 1933-1945 . Oxford: New York, 1997.

Stephenson, Jill. Women in Nazi Germany. Longman: 2001


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